Betting on fear of fear itself

On March 4, 1933, in his first inaugural address, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke the famous phrase “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Oh, how welcome that sentiment would have been in Cleveland last week.

Like many Americans, I couldn’t look away during the Republican National Convention. I watched with fleeting hope that the GOP would at least try and find a way to put together a coherent message as to why we should have faith in their nominee’s ability to advance our common goals. It’s not that the convention failed that is most bothersome. The clear lack of effort is.

There is a portion of our population who responds to fear. Many voters in the primaries, particularly those who voted for Trump, did so largely based on it. His foundational policy position, building the moronic wall, resonates with some. And that policy is nothing more than an expression of fear. It is childish, unsustainable fear that allows that idea to live longer than the 15 minutes it should have.

But it isn’t just the wall. Speech after speech, angle after angle, the theme this gathering on the shores of Lake Erie stuck to was fear.

The speech former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich gave was much like yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. I listened to it on TV while laying in bed in the comfort of my own home. I briefly thought about jumping out of bed and running like hell, but when I saw 20,000 people clapping for his absurd remarks I chose to just change the channel.

“We are at war with radical Islamists, we are losing the war, and we must change course to win the war,” Gingrich says. We are losing the war? That is absurdity number one. Attempting to convince others that a Hillary Clinton presidency equates to some version of his fictional Armageddon is next. “The cost of Hillary’s dishonesty could be the loss of America as we know it” he added.

This is fear mongering and nothing more.

I will only add one quote from Donald Trump’s screaming and hollering of a speech for the convention’s crescendo. He said “I alone can fix it.” Uh, Donald, you are running for president, not king or God. I can’t believe the speech scrolling in front of you actually read that way, but if it did, there is a group of people who need fired.

My summary of the convention is that this disorganized noise which is actually void of a useful message only helps the GOP if fear is the overriding sentiment of voters in November. I predict that it won’t be. After all, why should America be living in fear? I have bad news for everyone: we live in the least scary country on Earth.

FDR’s famous line in that 1933 speech is actually only part of the sentence. More broadly, he said:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”

The fear that was being sold in Cleveland is nameless. It is unjustified. And most of all, it is paralyzing.

“The people themselves” will provide the progress and solutions to our challenges during this baffling political exercise. No candidate “alone” will provide the answers. That is a fundamentally fascist solution of which I have already written.

The Democrats get their turn this week. I predict they will be selling hope, progress and optimism. Historically, that is easier to sell to Americans. After all, we govern ourselves. Why would we sign up for a program that is based on how bad we are?

The GOP has come a long, long way since the “Morning in America” message of Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s. The optimism of the party is now officially gone.

I have written many times that one thing we can do to make America safer is to make a conscious effort to try and be hated less. “Americanism” is a strategy that is the opposite of mine. And it was uniquely Trump a few months ago. Not any more.

The only thing the GOP is selling is fear itself. Trump and the GOP are betting that we will actually buy it.

I’m betting we won’t.